Several weeks ago (in blog dated 4-20-07) I reported that a Brazilian team of physician/researchers had successfully stemmed the tide in some newly diagnosed cases of Type I (insulin dependent diabetes) through the harvest and infusion of autologous stem cells derived from the patient’s own bone marrow: known as hematopoetic stem cell transfer. These cells had allegedly taken up the role of the suddenly absented pancreatic beta cell and started producing insulin. While this was only a first step in the process of finding a cure for this very serious disease that shortens the life span of those so afflicted, it was at least a step in the right direction, a light in a dark place. Those researchers are to be commended not condemned.
The word hypocrite is etymologically based upon the Greek word that described an actor in a play; someone pretending to be what he is not; literally two faced. That meaning is depicted on the facades of many playhouses (theaters) throughout the world with a face, half of which is black and half of which is white. Another thespian based word with Latin origins is “sincere.” That compound word arises from two Latin words; sine (meaning without) and cere (meaning wax). To be “without wax” meant that the person making a statement was not wearing a false, wax face used in theatrical productions.
In the July 18, 2007 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) a letter to the editor appeared that adequately expressed the hypocrisy of some who have taken up sides in the debate over the use of stem cells to find cures for numerous diseases currently affecting the quality of life and/or the longevity of humans.
The physician writing that letter bemoaned the fact that the researchers were using children (who are by the way the most frequent victims of this dreaded disease) in their study. He said that the report “raises certain ethical concerns regarding participant selection and study design.” The writer alluded to the Declaration of Helsinki, which addresses medical ethics, and the fact that the declaration requires a legally signed consent form when dealing with “incompetent minors.” He further pointed out that the declaration prohibits research on certain groups unless the general population’s common health is favorably promoted by the study.
To imply that curing Type I diabetes does not improve the heath and/or welfare of the general population is ludicrous. The direct and collateral damage done to the patients and their families in the long term care of diabetic complications in these individuals is too common and well known to deserve further comment.
The real hypocrisy here is to be found in the fact that this doctor, and others like him at the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics and The University of Chicago’s school of medicine have never raised the issue of “informed consent” when it comes to the matter of using any of the 500,000 frozen embryos (also incompetent, fully human minors) in the invitro fertilization labs around this country for stem cell research. The silence in that regard is deafening whenever governments are asked to fund such research.
Instead of applauding the Brazilians for shedding some light on this ground breaking, new technique of using autologous stem cells (which obviates rejection phenomena) in the cure of disease (as opposed to homologous stem cells represented by embryonic, cord blood or amniotic sources that are threatened by rejection), they chose instead to find what they consider a dark side to the study. As a Chinese proverb aptly teaches, “It is always better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”